My mind is racing – in the wrong direction

Today I had two meetings. The first was in the morning, which was cancelled, leaving myself and the only other available participant with a free hour. We decided to just screw around in my cube to see what we could come up with. It was hands-down the most productive meeting I’ve had for that group. Actually got stuff done – useful stuff. The second meeting was at the end of the day. It was also productive, but in a completely different manner.  I received clear direction and feedback and had most of my questions answered – AKA: I know where I’m going with that project, how to get there and when. PLUS it’s a fun project. I basically get to re-vamp a bunch of reports for a tele-health system in a newer much more wiz-bang and easy to manage technology. 

The problem is that the day is over and I’m still in full-on programmer mode. I can’t seem to clear my mind of plans for how I might structure the new system. Now, this shouldn’t be a problem, it’s nice to be enthusiastic about work, but it is because NaNoWriMo starts in a couple of days and I need to focus on my personal stuff while at home. If that meeting had occurred earlier in the day, perhaps I would have run it out of my system by 4.

Anyhow, here I am, thinking about queries, data organization, documentation, testing, and all that jazz. I just can’t seem to get back into the right frame of mind for writing and plotting. Not only that, I can feel exhaustion setting in. Won’t be long before I’m too tired to really concentrate. That’s my NaNoWriMo update for the day. I’m trying, but I just can’t seem to get there. Perhaps a run, then maybe?

NaNoWriMo for Awesome

So, I’ve got most of my NaNoWriMo novel plotted/sketched out. So far just up to chapter 12 or so, I need to spend some time focusing on the final action and wrap-up, but I think I’ll be able to get there pretty quickly. Then, I’ll just need to spend some time before go-time filling out a few scene descriptions, and fiddling with characters.

Uh, Dave

Yes?

I did read your sketches

And what do you think?

That story is going to suck.

WHAT!? Come on, they don’t go into characters or any detail, and it’s just the loose sketch, how could you know it’s going to suck?

First off, I’m in your head, so I know. Second, that story may have started with a strong cast, but the plot has no soul. 

What do you mean it has no soul?

I can tell just looking through your meandering scribblings that this book is going to wander around lost in the woods until you get near the end, where there will be a big battle, maybe a chase, then it’s over -happliy ever after and all that. To top that off, it’s so full of cliches and over-used ideas that I don’t even WANT to like it – See SUCK.

Alright then, smarty pants, what should I do with it?

Go back to the first chapter you wrote up and have a chat with the characters. Maybe pantster it a little bit. I mean it’s fine to apply over-used ideas, but they’d better be interesting ones that are well executed, your original sketch has absolutely no hint of compelling story telling.

So, I’ve got to start over? 

No. Keep some of your characters, dump a few others, make the story about the main character and her problems, not about the adventuring. To paraphrase Yoda: Focus on where she is, what she is doing. Nobody gives a rip about a queen in a tower somewhere, and you know what? your MC probably doesn’t care either.

So what if it’s not very good? This is just NaNoWriMo, it’s just like a super-challenging practice session right?

NO – you are doing this to challenge yourself and get better at your craft. You’re not going to get better by churning out crap that a 3rd grader could do in an afternoon.

You’re a real jerk, you know that?

I’m not a jerk, I’m you. Now, get your rear back to work, you’ve only got a few weeks to re-imagine this story into something that isn’t awful.

Over the hills and far away

Last week, I went to Kansas City for training. I rarely go out of town, in fact I don’t think I’ve gone out of town for work in over a year and that last one was a very short trip to Fairbanks. Living in Alaska, everything is far away. Even stuff up here is far away. From where I live, the capital is about 1 ½ hour flight and it can’t be reached by road. I’m actually closer to Seattle from where I’m at than I am from the farthest corner of this state, and I’m a three hour flight from Seattle. Anyhow, a trip to Kansas City, which is generally a few hours of flying time at worst (unless you’ve got to take a really wacky series of layovers) from most parts of the country. For me, however, we’re talking a minimum of 8 hours travel time involving at least 1 layover. To put icing on that cake, most AK to lower-48 flights leave sometime between the hours of 11pm and 6am.

The moral of this story is that not only do these trips trap me on an aircraft for two full days, it results in serious jet-lag and exhaustion. It’s true this trip was for business, and I committed myself to carrying out those responsibilities and talking shop for many extra hours too. One would think that I’d be too tired for creativity – which is something I hear a lot during the procrastination process. While I believe ‘too tired’ is a legitimate reason to put the writing down for a bit, after all we all get there, I feel that there are strategies for dealing with it. In any case, being away from home I was left without many of the usual distractions and responsibilities. So, even in my state of ‘holy crapamoly I’m tired’ I was able to take what little energy I had and focus it.

From the perspective of writing I learned a couple of things about myself and writing on this trip. The first is that I really need to have coffee to write. At 6:00 am I was on the plane with my iPad and couldn’t bring myself to turn it on. Once they came round with coffee I fired that bitch up and didn’t stop until the wheels hit the ground. Lesson learned: If I’ve got a warm cup by my side, I’m a lot more productive. In the evening, when coffee is a bit dicey, a beer or whiskey also seems to fill the niche (herbal tea or decaf works through the week when I’m being good). The second thing I learned about myself is a bit more involved.

Ahead of the trip, I had decided that I would focus my free time on writing, so I planned to stay off of Twitter, avoid much on Facebook (I did flip through a few times), and not even open Wordpress. I’d say that I was fairly successful there. However, I’m not convinced these are actually the source of most of my distraction. Sure I can kill an hour very rapidly by sifting through various blog posts and wipe out 5 minute spans of time keeping an eye on twitter, but those actually don’t really tear me away from what I’m doing like other sorts of things. I also didn’t turn the TV on while I was there. With that noise box silenced the hour in the morning and hour or two at night I had for writing (the same as I have now, incidentally), was uninterrupted.

The most important thing I learned, however, was that over the course of those three days last week I found that if I’ve got a strong idea, and few real distractions (and even if I’m exhausted) I can write – a lot – not polished, ready to share work, but solid rough draft material. I don’t ever recall having written 6,000 words over the course of three days while still putting in 8 hours of work plus a few hours of work-place networking before. Hell, I don’t know if I’ve ever written that amount during time off. If I hadn’t been so fried on Friday I’d probably have knocked out another 2-3K on the airplane, which would have been about half of chapter 9 of Wine Bottles and Broomsticks.

Now I’m back home and back in my usual routine and I’m not entirely sure how to apply these lessons to my day-to-day writing (except the coffee – that’s easy) given that when I get home it’s time to cook, clean up and manage children, those TV free hours are lost anyhow, it’s later that I’m still working out. I do like being able to unwind with a little TeeVee but I’d also like to get done with my book. I suppose though that just knowing that I can produce a lot feels like a personal victory and knowing more about how I work best is helpful. With that in mind, and because I’ve been kicking the idea around for a while, I signed up for NaNoWriMo. I’m planning on tackling a project other than Wine Bottles and Broomsticks. However, in order to ‘win’, I’ve got to write something on the order of 1700 words per day. Anyhow, we’ll see how it goes. For starters, I need to be well prepared so at some point soon, I’ll start outlining like a fool and sketching characters.

So, there’s my thought for the week. I should probably think them out on this blog more, but too many distractions. Off to that cup of coffee and the last ten minutes remaining to me this morning.